We should have been friends.
Full disclosure: I am a white-straight-male in my 60's. The most vilified and blamed group for all the problems that have come to be in the world. The group, that though each one may not have ever done anything evil, is tarred with the same brush as those who have perpetuated some of the worst crimes against humanity that the world has ever seen. So, I have no illusions that even writing this story, will bring a vitriolic response. Yet, this story is not unique and needs to be part of the record.
In the 1980's as the Gay and Lesbian issues began to reach the conscious level of a majority of United Church members, (there was no reference then to LBGTQ2 as a group back then) many of we who were straight had some real catching up and learning to do. The task forces and studies on ministry and sexuality were done with a great deal of grace, error, judgement, and in many cases a keen desire to continue what the United Church had always been doing, seeking justice and resisting evil. It was part of the creed I’d memorized as part of confirmation many years even before that.
In 1986, the issue glanced off the agenda of the General Council. I was a delegate and we had other things in the offing. In 1987 and 1988, when the proposals were being formulated to the General Council meeting in Victoria, the vitriol that was being bubbled about scared many of us. Some had to deal with parishioners who declared our faith was suspect, our ordination invalid, if, we did not actively resist the calls for inclusion. It was a scary time. The wording of the proposal, that was excellent then, and excellent now and gets so misquoted helped many of us calm the fears of parish and presbyteries at the same time. I was chair of a presbytery at that time. I was working with the Division of Communication sharing information and trying to get the word out about sense. We continually touted the wording. And it made sense when people really looked at what the report said.
We kept saying: That all people regardless of orientation are welcome to be members. That all members are equally welcome to apply for ordination. It sounded so sensible. Yet was twisted and is today into a line that the United Church actively sought out people of ‘other’ orientations to become ministers. For several years after the decision was made, we continued to tell people, its O.K. you get to choose not only who is your minister, but you choose who, if anyone, comes to ministry through your congregation. Today, that might seem narrow. Maybe some would see it as a chance to support being exclusive. Not the intent at all. Then, it calmed people and as late as 2008 I was still asking people if their lives had been ‘ruined’ by 1988. The answer was always no. For most today, especially those new to the UCC, inclusion is just the way things should be and mostly are.
One of the really good things that came from the decision by the way, was that it gave people in the parishes permission to talk to their ministers about children who were gay, lesbian or other. The other edge, was that those same parishioners were sometimes driven from congregations who denied the validity of the new order and who were not welcoming in any way shape or form. Many just stopped attending.
I remember, the debates at Conference in 1988 (spring of the year). I remember sorting through dozens of petitions asking for status quo, or denial. I was vilified and chased out of a pastoral charge because I convinced them that another protesting petition was not worth it. The youth delegate who went to council came home and told everyone the minister had lied to them. I was on the conference executive that year and had to listen in September of 1988 to a damage report Presbytery by Presbytery about the reaction. I had to sit and listen to the hate expressed towards people both the Gay and Lesbians and those who and supported them. One person on the executive was heralding a boycott of the Mission and Service fund. “We’re not trying to hurt the church.” she said. I was furious and doubled down on M & S promotion. We had to deal with lawyers and such as congregations chose to leave the United Church and tried to keep their buildings. Ministry colleagues I had worked with for years, now would no longer speak to me. To escape, I took a new pastorate in a different Presbytery. It was a mistake and left some lasting scars.
Yet there were bright spots. I created the “Proud to be United” friction fit window decal in 1989-90 which was sold by UCRD to the tune of 4,000 +. (Image attached to email). Sang Chu Lee was a breath of hope and the picture of him with my daughter on his knee as he had supper with our family one evening, gave hope and grace to a rather dark time.
As the years passed, and people realized that the 1988 decision was just the right thing, had no ill effects, welcomed people and made the church truly a little more inclusive the calm was restored. There continued to be bits of dislike, talk, a little hate. And one discovery made was often, not always, but often, the person who had most been against the decision, had a homosexual child, sibling, relative. A bit of knowledge that to this day, eludes understanding.
Now in 2018, 30 years later, the world has changed. For 37 years I have been part of conference meetings and this year, last year for conference, perhaps my last year in the Church, I am excluded. As a person who was harassed by a co-worker of a different gender, I am psychologically unable to use mass gender-neutral washrooms. I am uncomfortable for a number of reasons. When the conference chose to have only gender-neutral last year I wrote them a letter, explaining the issue. Suggesting that while gender-neutral is a good thing, there ought to be a choice - private - family - as some places provide, for those finding a gender-neutral only washroom situation untenable. The planning committee and the affirming committee never responded. When I expressed my frustration to a person I know well, a member of the LBGTQ community she said, “you guys had your turn, now its ours.”
So, having worked, made the effort to help, spoke up for and defended the decision of the United Church to welcome all people to membership and welcome all people to apply for ministry, I’m shut out. And someone might say, ‘now you know how we feel or felt.’ That was not the intent of the decision to include. It should not have been the choice of the church ever. I did not see it ending this way.
We Should have been friends.
(Shared with permission. Photo: Author's own, shared with permission.)